Laxmi Ratan Shukla Resigns: Factionalism Causing TMC Defections?

Laxmi Ratan Shukla resigned from the WB cabinet making him the latest in a batting order collapse of the TMC

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Politics
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Laxmi Ratan Shukla Resigns: Factionalism Causing a TMC Collapse?
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When wickets fall in quick succession, fingers are often pointed at the batting team for their management or the lack thereof. Former India cricketer and Trinamool Minister Laxmi Ratan Shukla resigned from the Mamata Banerjee cabinet on Tuesday, making him the latest in what one can call a batting order collapse in the party, as the it chases its third consecutive term in the state.

The middle-order batsman resigned as the minister of youth services and sports, as well as the post of TMC’s Howrah district president citing a political sanyaas to focus on sports administration. His resignation was accepted without much ado. He will continue to be a TMC MLA until the end of his tenure.

One can do it. What does it matter? Laxmi is a good boy. He has written in his letter that he wants to retire from politics to concentrate on his sports... I want him to do well in his sports and we wish him well. There is no misunderstanding on the matter.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Shukla’s resignation
Vaishali Dalmiya, TMC MLA from Bally, a constituency in the Howrah district adjacent to Shukla’s, told The Quint that she was “shocked” to hear the news of his resignation. She said that she knew that he was unhappy at the party but did not expect him to quit.

Shukla is the second minister to quit the TMC after former Transport Minister and party honcho, Suvendu Adhikari, who recently joined the BJP.

Adhikari joined the saffron party at a rally by Home Minister and BJP leader Amit Shah in Bengal's Midnapore. Several other TMC leaders joined the party along with Adhikari, in an exodus that started a few days prior. With the Home Minister set to make repeated visit to the state in the run-up to the elections, the defection saga looks like it will continue.

Infighting and factionalism in the TMC has been well-known in West Bengal politics. Shukla’s resignation may well be a byproduct of similar factionalism in the Howrah district which is now being disguised as a desire to focus more on sports administration.

Factionalism: TMC’s Achilles Heel?

Factionalism has been a major reason behind the TMC losing seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. TMC lost many key constituencies like Ranaghat, Balurghat and consecutively their hold over South Bengal to the BJP due to factionalism, and this time around the same may cost them dearly.

TMC’s ‘Old Guard’ are unhappy with Abhishek Banerjee and political strategist Prashant Kishor ‘taking charge’ of the party, which has led many of them to feel sidelined. They have alleged that leaders who have given their blood and sweat for the party are not being given their due diligence and are also being “ordered what to do by kids”.

This was one of the primary reasons behind Adhikari’s departure, who was sidelined by the party since the organizational rejig in July last year. The rejig also saw Shukla being made Howrah’s district president, replacing senior leader Arup Roy while forest minister Rajib Banerjee was made the district co-ordinator.

It is no secret that Banerjee and Roy don’t get along with each other, and this rejig only soured things further. Banerjee had accused the local leadership of corruption over the distribution of cyclone Amphan relief materials. He accused Roy of protecting the “big fishes” known for corrupt practices, while the “small fries” were sent to the guillotine. Rebutting, Roy accused him of echoing the sentiments of the BJP.

Thus began the strife, which has been a cause of worry for the Trinamool Congress.

Banerjee went on and out of tune with the party, alleging that he was being constricted by the party in his fight against corruption. He also felt sidelined by the party. Although he has shunned rumours of joining the BJP, he has been openly attacking his party and repeatedly missing cabinet meetings.

Interestingly, Banerjee played an influential role in bringing Shukla onboard in 2016 to contest against BJP heavyweight Roopa Ganguly in Howrah North.

Bally MLA Vaishali Dalmiya echoed a similar sentiment claiming that “negative-minded people harass them”. She went on to allege that it wasn’t people from other parties, but her own party leaders who have been making life difficult for her and Shukla who is “like a brother to her”.

Local leaders thought that they were above the party supremo and everyone would have to abide by whatever decisions they take. They did not follow the hierarchy. With so many people leaving the party, it is time I speak up against the backstabbers and silent killers. That way the party can eradicate them.
Vaishali Dalmiya, TMC MLA

Sources close to Shukla have alleged the same, saying that his life was “made hell” by the “vicious internal rivalry”.

Batting on a Tough Wicket

Sources close to the former cricketer also said that getting back to sports was not the main reason for Shukla's departure. They allege that he was “very displeased” with the infighting between TMC factions in Howrah and that his role was not given any importance.

While Howrah MP Prasun Banerjee reportedly accused him of “no movement” and “not forming any committee” since he was made in-charge, sources say that he did in fact send a fresh list of district leaders to Arup Ray and Rajib Banerjee which were reportedly “ignored”.

Shukla, a close aide of Banerjee, found it difficult to work with Ray, whose loyalists still call the shots in Howrah.
“He barely passed a couple of files in four and a half years as minister and even block-level changes that he wanted to institute were not allowed. He is disillusioned because unlike sports, where merit matters, his hard work in politics was yielding no results”, said a source close to Shukla.

"He does not want to share a stage with "corrupt thieves" anymore", said the source.

Switching Sides?

Even before Shukla handed in his resignation, rumours of him joining the BJP were doing the rounds. After his resignation, there have been whispers of him joining the BJP during national president JP Nadda’s Bengal visit.

Shukla has clearly stated that he is going on a political sanyaas to focus on sports and has even been seen at the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) campus, which can even hint at him running for its president. Legally, Shukla would have had to give up his cabinet berth and political affiliation if he wanted to run for CAB president, as per recommendations by RM Lodha.

Meanwhile the BJP has opened its arms for the former cricketer. BJP MP Babul Supriyo and spokesperson Shamik Bhattacharya urged Shukla to join the BJP.
Cricketers like Shukla are always welcome (to join BJP). People are leaving Trinamool Congress for it has outlived its ideology. It was a party born out of opposition to CPM. A decade on, it is no more relevant.
Shamik Bhattacharya, BJP spokesperson

Congress too opened its doors for the cricketer, as BJP state president Dilip Ghosh joked that “TMC’s wickets are falling every day”.

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